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On January 6, 2017, a stray dog brought in to Anchorage from the Yukon-Kuskokwim (YK) Delta tested positive for rabies. The animal had been in foster homes in both Bethel and Anchorage, and had limited contact with humans or other dogs before its death. After receiving the test results, the Alaska Section of Epidemiology (SOE) immediately informed those persons who interacted with the animal to assess potential exposures. Alaskans should be aware of the health risks of rescuing dogs whose histories are unknown. In this case, the rescuers kept the dog quarantined after its rescue, both on the YK Delta and in Anchorage, which minimized potential rabies exposures.
In Alaska, rabies occurs most often in foxes, but can infect other mammals such as dogs, if they are exposed to a rabid animal. In certain regions of the state (including the YK Delta, North Slope, and western coast of Alaska), rabies is always present at a certain level in the fox population. This means any unvaccinated dog has the potential to develop rabies and present a risk to humans. Other regions of the state, such as Anchorage and along the road system, do not have locally-occurring animal rabies. Once exposed to rabies, an animal will incubate this fatal virus for a period of weeks to months before it will show any signs of being ill and ultimately dying.
Recommendations for Health Care Providers:
This case highlights the potential for dogs, and other animals, to translocate diseases around the state. Some diseases like rabies can have major consequences for humans; others, like canine parvovirus (a viral gastrointestinal illness), are only a concern for dogs.
Please consider these general guidelines for interacting with animals to minimize disease acquisition and transmission: